Milk cows chill out to Mozart




African News Agency


PEOPLE across the globe can attest to the power of music, but new research has revealed it can be appreciated by and be beneficial to other species too. According to a recent study by the University of Pretoria (UP), playing soothing classical music to dairy cows not only lowers their stress levels but also increases their milk production. The findings, published in the journal Domestic Animal Endocrinology, were the result of research by Lize-mari Erasmus, a former member of UP’S Camerata choir, who has a master of science degree in agriculture specialising in animal science from the University. Her research is the first of its kind in South Africa to investigate the influence of classical music on the stress levels and milk production of cows. “The health and welfare of dairy cows go hand in hand with efficient and sustainable dairy production. Providing cows with an enriching, stimulating environment, such as through music, is one way of improving their living conditions and, in the process, looking after their mental needs too.” Erasmus spent four months at Innovation Africa at the university’s Future Africa Institute, where a herd of Holstein cows were kept. Nine cows were divided into three groups of three, and over the course of four months, each group was exposed to three treatments. One group of animals was exposed to classical music every day for 24 hours wherever they were on the farm, while a second group wasn’t exposed to any music at all. Cows in the third group heard classical music only when they were milked. She included works from composers such as Mozart, Grieg, Corelli and Offenbach, as well as compositions such as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Saint-saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals and Handel’s Water Music. It was played over an audio system on shuffle mode to ensure the animals did not learn to associate a particular sequence of music with a particular part of the day, such as milking time. Erasmus said she could sense from their slightly agitated behaviour that the cows that were exposed to music needed time to adapt to their “new normal”, which they did within two weeks. Erasmus said previous research had found dairy cows preferred slow music to fast-paced music, and instrumental music such as the classics rather than rock or Latin music. With the help of UP’S Endocrine Research Laboratory, she regularly tested how much glucocorticoid, a hormone produced in stressful situations, was found in the dung and milk of the animals in the different treatment groups. “Cows exposed to constant music had the lowest stress-related levels of glucocorticoid in their dung. They were noticeably calmer when being milked, which is generally a stressful time of the day because of all the activity.” “Up to 2 litres more milk per milking session was obtained from the cows when they were constantly surrounded by music all day and night. The findings indicate that auditory stimuli as a form of environmental enrichment have economic benefits to the producer,” Erasmus said. If the findings were anything to go by, Erasmus said it could mean that milk producers might be able to keep fewer cows, yet still be profitable.